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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Mike Church

McGovern, T H, Vésteinsson, O, Friðriksson, A, Church, M J, Lawson, I T, Simpson, I A, Einarsson, A, Dugmore, A J, Cook, G T, Perdikaris, S, Edwards, K J, Thomson, A M, Adderley, W P, Newton, A J, Lucas, G, Edvardsson, R, Aldred, O & Dunbar, E (2007). Landscapes of settlement in northern Iceland: Historical Ecology of human impact and climate fluctuation on the millennial scale. American Anthropologist 109(1): 27-51.

Author(s) from Durham


A thousand years ago Viking age voyagers crossed the grey waters of the North Atlantic, colonizing the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland between AD 800 and 1000. However, early transatlantic migration was not to have the historical impact of the later European re-discovery of North America, and by the 16th century the Scandinavian North Atlantic island communities had become either extinct or were marginalized colonies of continental states. Climate change and unintended human impact upon island ecosystems have long been proposed as root causes of the decline of the Norse Atlantic colonies, but interdisciplinary research had usually been restricted to short term investigations of single sites. In an attempt to better understand the complex interactions of culture and nature in early Iceland and to contribute a long term perspective to larger issues of sustainable resource use, soil erosion, and the historical ecology of global change, since 1996 the NABO research cooperative has mounted a sustained program of interdisciplinary collaboration focused upon 9th-13th century sites and landscapes in the highland interior lake basin of Mývatn. A multi-site, interdisciplinary, landscape based approach to human-environment interaction on the millennial scale has modified many early assumptions about human impact in the region, while documenting a case of 1200 year-old sustainable management of wildfowl and substantial internal exchange of marine products within 9th-10th century Iceland. Organizational background of the research cooperative and management lessons learned are also presented.